“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” has been a popular saying for quite some time and particularly relevant in the world we find ourselves in today. Whether it be through social media, news content, product or service reviews, political discourse and candidate promotion, the “voices” appear to be getting louder – especially those on the extremes. Some of this makes sense, especially in cases where a platform may be dedicated to a particular position or supporting a specific agenda. In other cases, it feels quite baffling to me.
Take the state of business today – corporations have lost billions of dollars because a consumer segment didn’t agree with a position they took. Billions. Target and Bud Light are more recent examples, but even the L.A. Dodgers and M&Ms took a brand hit when trying to appeal to particular societal segments. To make it worse, some of these organizations tried to pull back their support when they met resistance – which only upset more people. There was a time when business generally shied away from anything deemed controversial, to avoid alienating a particular or potential customer group. That is not the case today, and the results have been disastrous for some of these organizations.
As organizations continue to take positions on social issues, there are a few takeaways that come to mind. First and foremost, those who yell the loudest tend to get heard these days, and they are likely very passionate about their cause. Another takeaway is to be sincere in anything you support and ready for any backlash that might result. And most importantly, know your audience and the potential consequences of taking a position that might be deemed controversial.
Good consumer insights work can help this situation in a number of ways – whether that is conducting a “disaster check” to make sure a particular position doesn’t alienate a core customer group, testing the best method and channel to communicate a position, or even understanding who is going to be “loud” and what impact that might have on the business when a position gets communicated. However, the trick is making sure you are speaking to the right audience, asking the right questions, using the right methods and interpreting the data properly.
One has to wonder if the Bud Lights and Targets of the world did any objective consumer research at all. These are brands with huge and sophisticated marketing functions; one would think they had the foresight and resources to do so. Maybe they did but it was poorly done or interpreted incorrectly. Perhaps someone in the organization just ignored the data. One thing is clear, properly executed and thoughtful insights work is needed now more than ever and can be a great investment – especially before taking on a social cause.
One final thought on the squeaky wheel. I sure hope it starts to quiet down soon, as I’m fresh out of grease and have a splitting headache.